Title: The Selection
Editors: Kiera Cass
Star Rating: *
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Romance
The Selection has been described as a cross between the Hunger Games and The Bachelor. The story begins in a country called Illea, a monarchy that stretches throughout most of North and South America. The prince of the nation is of age and needs to find a wife, and thirty-five young women are randomly picked to compete to be the new princess. However, Illea is embroiled in war and rebels are attacking the castle. Can America Singer, a lowly 4th caste, possibly manage to survive this competition? Will her broken heart be mended by the prince, or will she forever be unable to love again after her lover Aspen abandoned her? Will she ever learn to stop being the worst protagonist imaginable?
I have tried to write a review of The Selection several times, but it’s a book that I find difficult to analyse. Actually, let me clarify: it’s a book that I find nauseatingly terrible (despite it being a bestseller), and I have too much to say about what I don’t like about it. The protagonist is selfish and irritating, the setting is implausible and makes little sense, and the plot is basically non-existent. Being that there are many other reviewers who have taken a shot at reviewing this book, I decided that I needed to be a bit more creative with my commentary, so instead of my usual style of review, I’m writing a letter to The Selection about its world building choices. One of the benefits of a political science degree is that you get really good at assessing whether a fictional dystopia is well-constructed, and I use these skills to talk about how Illea just shouldn’t logically exist.
Dear The Selection,
We need to have a talk. You see, I love dystopias, and you are pretending to be one. Lots of people have given you rave reviews and compare you to the Hunger Games, so I decided to give you a try. After finishing you, however, all of these commendations make me very sad since you and good old HG are really not playing the same literary game, now are you?
To start, let’s talk about this inadequate world building you’ve got going on. According to the text, Illea has been around for around 80 years and there have been three generations of royals. In this short time period, it seems that most people have forgotten history. During a lesson for the selected women, their teacher states that “history isn’t something you study. It’s something you should just know”. The impetus for this comment is that there are no history books in Illea, from pre or post-Illea creation. America has had access to one, and it is implied that it was saved from a book burning and that her father wasn’t supposed to have it. But otherwise, there are no history books commonly available to people.
Where to begin… Well, first of all, I know families who currently have four generations of people still alive in them. A lot of families have at least three generations of people alive within them. This means that regardless of whether there are history books, there are people, and humanity survived with just oral history at their disposal for thousands of years (even during periods of war and widespread death). Did the old people, the grandparents and elders, all die? Are they not sharing their knowledge? Is it forbidden? How would such knowledge be controlled? Is it possible for so much history to disappear in such a relatively short amount of time?
I am particularly interested in this question since, despite the feel of this book with its monarchy and grand palaces, this story takes place in the future. It must take place at least some time after 2012 since the novel mentions a third world war after America goes completely bankrupt. Being that I lived through the year 2012, I know that information is readily available in modern North America. There are millions upon millions of books in the country, reams of data centers, video and audio recordings, photographs, the internet, and the list goes on. Where did all of this information go? If this book took place in the past, I could see how an author would be able to create a world where information was at a premium as things like books and such were expensive and difficult to access even before a totalitarian state took it upon themselves to control access. However, we’re looking at a story that seems to be written around a century or two after the current day (as a note, according to the TV pilots, the series was set 300 years in the future. I have no idea if this is canon, but my complaints still apply). How did the current totalitarian state get rid of so much evidence of the past? How was technology suppressed since personal computers don’t seem to exist anymore (though cell phones do)? I have a lot of questions as to how this is all supposed to work, book!
One explanation might be that the infrastructure of the US was largely destroyed after the two wars against China and Russia. However, I have to question the logic of both of these wars. No mention is made of whether American territory was harmed. Or how exactly how the battle was fought. I don’t buy the idea that all the books, internet, photos and such were exploded/set on fire/destroyed in some other manner. Or that the American people just suddenly forgot their history. Propaganda is a powerful tool, but there are limits to what it can do. There will always be rebels, and rebels in contemporary North America should have been well-equipped with information. Plus, book, you make some commentary that places like Canada and countries in North America were not conquered, and only joined with Illea recently. How did their history disappear so thoroughly?
Another question that came up for me was the fact that this campaign on the part of Illea to ensure that its citizens remain ignorant of history would have been undermined by the fact that the country did not make use of state-controlled education. Only those in castes six and seven had access to public school; the rest of the castes were responsible for home schooling their children. What a terrible waste of an opportunity to ensure that people are receiving an appropriate amount of propaganda, book! There doesn’t even seem to be a required curriculum. This means that parents are free to teach their children their own values and beliefs, and these may not line up with the state’s perceptions of what is good. A dystopic state with infrastructure would be quick to jump on the opportunity to train its citizens in perfect obedience. Allowing citizens full right to educate their children is a recipe for democracy and rebellion!
There are a lot of other examples of things I don’t understand about your world (the caste system!), book, but how about we start with just these basic problems. If your world doesn’t hinge together, how am I supposed to understand or care about your plot’s problems that are based on your crazy, disjointed universe?
A very confused reader